Mar 15, 2019

A famous Nelson Mandela quote goes, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” While many family conflicts do have real, important issues behind them, the vast majority are simply about resentment over occasional insensitivity or unfair or irresponsible behavior.

Holding on to resentment over such problems or fighting over them can be a terrible waste of time and energy for all concerned. If you find yourself contributing to a family conflict, here is how you defuse it. 

1. Target the problem, not the person

If a family member blames you for something you have done, it is important to be careful about how you defend yourself. It is not a good idea to use ways that cause hurt, even if they would help you make a valid point.

If you can think of an instance where the other person has done exactly what they accuse you of, for example, it would not be good manners to throw it in their face. You should only bring it up if you don’t have a choice. Then, you should make sure that you do it respectfully. 

2. Be liberal with the benefit of the doubt

When you have ongoing friction with a family member, it can be easy to believe that every annoying thing they do is intentional. Deliberate bad behavior is rare. People are often too involved in their own lives to want to annoy others in petty ways. Usually, the reasons people have for doing the things they do are far more complex and reasonable. 

3. Remember that people are different

Even if a family member habitually goes against reasonable wishes you may have, you should understand that people genuinely see even the most fundamental things in very different ways.

If you consider any noise after midnight to be intolerable, for example, others may genuinely see it is completely acceptable. It can take them a  great deal of time to change their behavior for a demand that they do not understand.

4. Look for patterns

Think about the familial conflicts that you are worried about now. Check to see if there is a parallel with problems that your parents had. People who grow up with parents who fight unfairly often repeat the same behavior. Consider changing the unfair habits that you grew up with. 

5. Understand that memories tend to change

In long-standing family disputes, all parties involved tend to have completely different recollections of the original problem. The mind has a way of constantly changing the way it remembers things – to the point that memories eventually bear no connection to real event.

Bring it up with the other person that it is possible that no one remembers the actual way the problem first started. Ask if you can start all over again

6. Think about children’s fights

When children fight, they tend to make their parents smile. It amuses parents to see little kids transparently clinging to their pride in matters of no consequence. It can help to think of your own fights in this way.

To someone who was much more mature, would your flight seem amusing? Seeing how silly it is to take oneself too seriously can help anyone overcome issues. 

7. What if it happened to someone else?

Whatever you are angry about, think about how seriously you would take the problem if it happened to someone else. Even better, think about whether you would be unhappy with a friend if he did the same thing to someone else. Taking your own personal feelings out of the equation can help you understand that your problem isn’t as serious as it seems.

8. Think about the healing effect of time

Try to recall the problems that you used to take  seriously years ago. If you can barely remember them now, you can be sure that the problems you take seriously today will seem inconsequential over time. You can save time by forgetting about them today. 

9. Use anger not to attack but to inform

Anger is a very useful, yet dangerous emotion. While it can energize you and give you the strength when you need to defend yourself or those you love, it can also lead you to react in all the wrong ways. Understand that anger is only good as a way to energize you; not to guide your actions.

10. Think about how you care for the other person

Families are a curious concept – while family members often feel nothing but resentment for one another, they will also often be there for them should they ever be in serious trouble.

When you feel resentment for someone, think about how far you would go for them if they happened to be in trouble. It could help soften you.

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